It has often been said that we are a family club, whose existence is deeply embedded in the Barnwell Community. Many of our players come back to the club regularly and many, Dion Dublin included, look back on their time here as a kind of golden period in their lives. Many, including Rodney Slack, have continued to live in the Barnwell area, where they still are fondly remembered as people who both entertained us and put us on the football map.
It is because of this traditional closeness between players and fans that the loss of three former players of ours has been deeply felt.
Jack Bishop, our Outside Left during the 1950s, has recently died in his nineties. Apart from being an outstanding player, it would be entirely fair to describe him as a war hero, who displayed real bravery on D Day. He was subsequently a POW in a notorious camp in Silesia, surviving this and a murderous forced march as liberation approached.
Graham Atkinson, brother of Ron, spent most of his playing career at Oxford United. During a brief interlude with us during the 1960s he scored 30 goals. An elegant and effective player for us, he has died at the age of 73.
Lastly, and most poignantly for me, was the passing of Robin Hardy at the age of 75. He was captain of the team which took us into the League for the first time in 1970. (It is a lesser known fact that Graham Taylor played for Lincoln in our first league game.)
Robin began his career at Sheffield Wednesday and was there during the great bribery scandal which tarnished that great club’s name for a while. He left Wednesday for a short stint at Rotherham before managing a pub, apparently disenchanted with the game. Somehow Bill Leivers persuaded him to return to professional football as he put together a team capable of dominating the Southern League and breaking into the Football League – no mean feat in those ‘closed shop’ days. Hardy and Gerry Baker formed the centre of the meanest defence in non-league football. Robin Hardy stood out in any company. I often stood on the Newmarket Road End marvelling at his skills and thinking that he was far too good for our level – which he probably was. To me he was a kind of Bobby Moore figure: poised, assured and never hurried. Even after all these years, I can picture him running easily over the cloying mud, delivering pinpoint passes and barely breaking sweat. Terry O’Dell tells me that he put on a bit of weight in later years and idolised his wife, who was glad of his retirement from football. He never really recovered from her loss. He looked back on his time here with great fondness and deserves to be remembered as one of our best – ever.